Wild raccoons are finding their way into urban settings. They may be discovered eating out of a garden or munching on pet food. They may be nesting in a crawlspace under the house, in an attic or in a chimney. A homeowner’s first impulse may be to trap the raccoons and relocate them. This is not as easy as it sounds and may be illegal. Even with the aid of a professional, it should only be a plan of last resort.
Raccoons are protected under most state laws and usually cannot be trapped without a special permit. Even animal control specialists do not recommend this approach. If a few raccoons are found in an area, there are most likely others ready to take the place of the removed ones. Also, raccoons don’t adapt well to a different environment and have an instinct to return to the place from which they were removed.
Instead of calling animal control to trap and remove, or getting a permit to do-it-yourself, a better approach is to make the property uninviting for the raccoons. This means removing the food source or at least making it inaccessible. Also, preventing the raccoons from finding shelter on the property will help keep them away.
Raccoons are nocturnal animals. They sleep most of the day and venture out around sunset. They are not particular about their diet and eat almost anything from insects to birds. Even though raccoons may appear cute, it is important not to feed them. They quickly lose their fear of humans and will depend on the handout. When the expected food is not available, they may become aggressive, brandishing their sharp claws and teeth.
Raccoons enjoy rooting around in garbage cans and view outside pet food dishes as an invitation to dine. All access to food must be prevented. If pets are fed outside, the dishes should be brought in at dusk and any food spills cleaned. Pet food should not be kept inside near a pet door and pet doors should be kept locked at night.
Garbage cans should be made inaccessible with the lids tightly secured. The cans should be put out in the morning for pickup instead of at night.
Preventing raccoons from having access to a vegetable garden is a daunting task. They are able to open gate locks and can climb fences. Using a very fine mesh for fencing material or even installing an electric fence are the most effective deterrents. Trees trunks need to be wrapped with aluminum flashing to prevent raccoons from accessing the home or garden by climbing a tree.
Some people have experimented with motion sensor lights or sprinklers that come on when the raccoon approaches. The sudden burst of light or water is expected to scare away the raccoons. This might work for a night or two, but persistent raccoons will return. They will adjust to the light and water and continue on with their eating plans.
A mother raccoon may find a birthing place in a crawl space under the house, in an attic or other comfortable place. The best approach is to leave the raccoons alone for a few weeks and they will leave on their own. Then, the entry can be sealed to prevent their return.
If a raccoon finds its way into the house, doors that access the outside should be left open and the animal will leave of its own accord. A gentle push toward the door with a broom may be effective, but the raccoon should never be directed to a corner where it will feel the need to defend itself and become aggressive.
As a fact sheet published by the State of Washington concludes: “As long as raccoons are kept out of human homes, not cornered, and not treated as pets, they are not dangerous.”